This week Human Rights Watch and Ensaaf published a report on the Indian state of Punjab, saying the government has failed to take concrete steps to hold accountable those who killed, “disappeared” and tortured thousands of Sikhs during its counterinsurgency campaign in Punjab during the 1980s and 1990s.
The 123-page report, “Protecting the Killers: A Policy of Impunity in Punjab, India,” examines the challenges faced by victims and their relatives in pursuing legal avenues for accountability for the human rights abuses perpetrated during the government’s counterinsurgency campaign. The report describes the impunity enjoyed by officials responsible for violations and the near total failure of India’s judicial and state institutions, from the National Human Rights Commission to the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), to provide justice for victims’ families.
Beginning in the 1980s, Sikh separatists in Punjab committed serious human rights abuses, including the massacre of civilians, attacks upon Hindu minorities in the state, and indiscriminate bomb attacks in crowded places. In its counterinsurgency operations in Punjab from 1984 to 1995, Indian security forces committed serious human rights abuses against tens of thousands of Sikhs. None of the key architects of this counterinsurgency strategy who bear substantial responsibility for these atrocities have been brought to justice.
“Impunity in India has been rampant in Punjab, where security forces committed large-scale human rights violations without any accountability,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “No one disputes that the militants were guilty of numerous human rights abuses, but the government should have acted within the law instead of sanctioning the killing, ‘disappearance,’ and torture of individuals accused of supporting the militants.”
I also want to clarify my own stance on this issue. While I have been dismissive of Sikh separatists and Khalistanis generally, because of reasons highlighted in this report, it doesn’t mean I have no sympathy for what happened in 1984. Of course I do. And I’ve always been critical of the Indian government’s human rights record towards Sikhs and other minorities (including Dalits, Christians and Muslims). I just have little time for those who want to establish countries based on religions. Anyway, this is not meant to be a discussion on the viability of an independent Sikh state. This is about human rights violations.
I also think that its about time non-Khalistani Punjabis and Sikhs started making more noise about this issue because it gets hijacked by the likes of the Sikh Federation UK, who have their own political agendas. And that not only turns off those who would support such campaigns, but also makes it easier for the Indian government to ignore them and thus continue denying Punjabis any justice.
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Filed in: Current affairs,India,Sikh